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OKLAHOMA CITY - A program that would double the state's highway construction budget and create more than 21,000 jobs has cleared its first two hurdles. That's according to Senator Larry Dickerson, author of Senate Bill 393 and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Transportation.
The bill received unanimous approval in the Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday, and won overwhelming support when the bill was voted on by the full Senate.
SB 393 authorizes a special lease-back mechanism that will allow the state to begin work on numerous highway projects immediately, but pay off the construction cost over a period of years.
"This program is a fantastic economic development tool. Businesses thinking about locating here or expanding existing facilities depend on good transportation systems for delivery of goods and services. Just as importantly, the citizens of this state deserve the safest roads possible. This bill will help us accomplish those things," said Dickerson, D-Poteau.
The program would be a collaborative effort involving the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, with the OTA issuing 20 year bonds over three years to finance the $750 million construction cost. OTA would then lease the roads back to ODOT for free use by the public. ODOT would retire the bonds with the help of additional appropriations from the Legislature. The payments would be funded entirely by growth revenue in the state budget.
"SB 393 enables us to begin the projects our state needs right now, without raising taxes. It also has provisions to make sure no one part of the state gets more than it's share of those project funds," noted Senate Appropriations Chairman Kelly Haney.
Projects which would be eligible for the funding include projects that would add a route where none currently exist or add lanes to an existing route, or projects that would significantly improve highway safety.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for committee consideration.
"We're urging our colleagues in the House to give their full support to this measure. The entire state stands to benefit from the job creation and from better roads," said Senator Keith Leftwich, vice-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
"We welcome their help and their support as this measure continues to move through the legislative process," added Senator Leftwich.